To Please God’s Heart

to-please-gods-heart

As a believer, my greatest opportunity and responsibility is to please God’s heart. There’s nothing I should want more.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a fundraising banquet for an awesome new organization located here on Indy’s west side. (If you haven’t heard of Active Grace, here’s your chance.)

As I prepared for my short devotion and thought about Active Grace’s mission to display the grace of Jesus by meeting the needs of people in our community, Micah 6:8 popped into my mind. And, I realized—of all the wonderful things we could attempt to do to please God’s heart—there is one thing in Scripture that seems to rise to the top of the list.

The following is my outline from that night. As you attempt to please God’s heart, I hope this is an encouragement to you.


What can believers do that most pleases God’s heart?

Is it heartfelt worship? In Psalm 100, the psalmist exhorts Israel to come before the lord with gladness, joyful songs, thanksgiving, and praise. Certainly, God is pleased when his people worship him and glorify his name. In fact, he wants us to live the entirety of our lives as a personal act of worship to him. He is worthy of praise.

Is it doctrinal precision? In his first letter to his protégé, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to apply himself to his life and doctrine and that by persisting in that effort he’d save himself and his hearers. God has revealed himself to his people in the Scriptures; they are God-breathed. The Scriptures reveal all we need for life and godliness. If he has revealed himself to us, it stands to reason that his people should invest the mental effort to know him with great precision and to prevent doctrinal error.

Is it personal purity? In the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the religious leaders of their time, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. God, who is holy, created us to bear his holy image. Without a doubt, God wills his people to put off sin and to put on his holiness.

Is it possible that all three of these—whether separate or combined—somehow fall short when it comes to pleasing our Heavenly Father? Almost in exasperation, [biblegateway passage=”Micah 6:6-8″ display=”the prophet Micah”] reflects this struggle:

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The answer to these rhetorical questions, of course, is that none of these (in any amount) will suffice for one who desires to stand in the Lord’s presence. Not glad, heartfelt worship alone. Not doctrinal precision alone. Not even a spotless heart.

Well, then, what can believers do that most pleases his heart?

Micah continues with the answer to the question:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Justice. Mercy. Devotion. God is most pleased when his people worship him by showing justice, by being merciful, and by walking humbly with him.

Over and over again, in God’s Word, he demonstrates his love for people on the margins of society, those who are oppressed by the powerful, those who are systemically deprived of justice, the poor who cannot provide for themselves, the sick who are in need of healing and hope, widows with no one to care for them, and orphans who are abandoned and alone.

Why is God so interested in these people? He created them. They bear his image. And, they are precisely the people who most easily recognize their need for him, for his provision, and for the salvation that can only come from him.

And, these are precisely the people God consistently urges believers to protect, to provide for, to honor, to welcome with glad hearts, and to love. This truth is so pervasive in Scripture that Micah can equate the act of providing justice to others with true worship, the showing of mercy with doing God’s will, and both as central to a thriving relationship with him—as devotion and as worship, pleasing to him.

To exploit the fatherless is to invite God’s wrath:

Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 23:10-11″]).

God defends those who are most defenseless and calls his people to do the same:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing, ([biblegateway passage=”Deuteronomy 10:18″]).

God calls us to be active in showing his grace:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow, ([biblegateway passage=”Isaiah 1:17″]).

He wants us to show kindness to the needy:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 14:31″]).

Providing for the poor is tied to spiritual blessings and curses:

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 28:27″]).

Perhaps all of this is so true of our heavenly Father because of what he did in and through Jesus Christ:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich, ([biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 8:9″]).

It’s no coincidence that James, Jesus’ own half-brother, summarized this issue so well. What is most pleasing to the Father?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, ([biblegateway passage=”James 1:27″]).

When I first heard about Active Grace, I became so excited. I immediately thought of Micah’s words. And, I knew that God would continue to do amazing things in and through this organization because I could see that what was so close to their heart is precisely what is closest to God’s heart: caring for the poor.

Once again, let’s hear Micah’s words:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


Do you want to please God’s heart?

God is most pleased with his people when we’re most focused on bringing justice and mercy to those who most need it and when we humbly walk with him.

Broken But Useful

broken-but-useful

When I was young, our television quit. My Dad and I took the TV to the appliance repair shop in the next town. We dropped it off, drove home, waited a couple of weeks, picked it up, lugged it back into the house, hooked it up, and used it for a few more years.

Aside from making me feel old, this foggy memory illustrates something:

We live in a throw-away culture. 

If my television stopped working, I’d put it in the junk pile and head over to the electronics store to buy a new one. (I’d probably get a bigger one, too; don’t tell my wife.) You and I would agree that the time and money we’d invest in fixing a broken appliance would dwarf the cost of a new one.

It’s amazing what we throw away. People used to mend the holes in their socks and patch the knees of their jeans. They tinkered with the lawn mower until it began working. They rolled down the car windows when the AC quit. Today, it’s not that we lack the resources. We reason that fixing stuff takes too much time, effort, skill, and care. And, because everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s just much more expedient—and gratifying—to shop for something new.

And, I suppose, when we’re talking about electronics, clothing, appliances, or vehicles, that’s fine. 

But, what do we do with broken people?

Do we discard them? Or, do we invest in them? Do we shop for someone new? Or, do we renew our commitment? Write them off or embrace them? Ignore them? Or, draw nearer?

There are two types of brokenness

These affect everyone we encounter:

First, we are broken because of  the sin with which we struggle. Sin affects us all. We rationalize it. We compare it with the sin we perceive in others. We hide it. Keep it at bay. It breaks our relationship with God and with those we love. It consumes our time and takes our strength. And, by God’s grace, eventually it breaks us and sends us to the only One who holds the cure.

Given godly sorrow, repentance, and accountability, people who are broken by sin ultimately get an experience of God’s forgiveness, grace, and power.

Second, we are broken because of the trials we all endure. God permits dark days. He allows tests and trials. He guides us into valleys. He stretches us. He moves us past the margins of our strength and resources. And, he meets us in our brokenness, shining the light of hope and peace into our fear and upheaval.

Given time, faith, and ample amounts of courage, this type of brokenness is the distinguishing characteristic of a true servant of God.

What do we do with people broken people?

First, we understand that we are just like them. Then, we draw near. We offer accountability. We provide comfort. We bear burdens. We beat back loneliness with our presence. We shine light into darkness. We speak God’s truth. We restore. We remain for the long haul. And we help them discover their new place in service to God’s Kingdom.

The men and women who have been broken, only to experience the healing touch of the Father, are precisely the ones who are humble and hungry enough to be the most earnest and effective workers in God’s Kingdom. People can be both broken and useful. They’re not to be thrown away. They’re to be restored and released for the glory of God.

Why? Because God is a loving Father. He is in the business of redeeming all kinds of brokenness. He doesn’t just discard us and move on to someone new. He doesn’t get frustrated and walk away. He remains. He doesn’t turn his back, ignoring us until we give up and leave. He commits. He loves, forgives, heals, restores, and calls us to greater service than what we could have asked or imagined before being broken.

What about you?

If you’re broken, take heart. If you seek him, allowing him to do his work, there are great things ahead.

If you’re tempted to discard someone who is seeking God in his brokenness, reconsider.

The Power To Do Good

the-power-to-do-good

A particular proverb has been rattling around in my brain for some time. It’s one of those bits of wisdom that has a way of sinking down and taking hold in my heart.

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act,” (Proverbs 3:27).

Nineteen words. Twitter-worthy at fewer than 140 characters. Limitless in application. Truly, I don’t believe I could ever exhaust the application of this short snippet. Here’s how this verse has been provoking me lately.

1. I have the power to do good.

I have almost unlimited potential to do good. The problem for me is when I begin to substitute “heroic” for “good.” I don’t have many opportunities to help elderly ladies across the street, pull children out of burning buildings, build hospitals, or make grand public gestures. But, I can remember to ask my friend how his grandmother’s health is. I can take the time to get to know the people around me and take a genuine interest in them. I can lend my help to carry furniture for my new neighbor. I can give a generous tip, open my house to guests, or buy a sandwich for someone who is hungry.

2. The good I might do is due to more people than I might initially imagine.

The homeless woman who sits outside of Starbucks every day. The coworker who treats me with less respect than I believe I deserve. The neighbor kid who is spreading dandelion seeds in my back yard. The single mom who is serving me at the restaurant. My boss. My family. Who deserves respect? I can tell you that there are many more who do deserve respect than there are who do not. I go wrong every time I glibly assume someone isn’t worthy of my respect. And, I miss opportunities to bless and encourage them.

3. Sometimes it isn’t in my power to act; but most of the time it is.

I easily become overwhelmed in the fact of others hardships. I routinely think, “What could I possibly do to help? Their needs are so much greater than I have the capacity to impact.” When I look around and see problems, there’s something very important I’m not seeing: people. I might not be able to reverse a social injustice, but I can be kind to a woman who is oppressed. I might not be able to reverse someone’s financial slide, but I can buy him lunch. I simply can’t continue to write off opportunities to do good for people because problems are too daunting.

As uncomfortable as it might be, I hope God continues to rattle my cage with this verse. I’ve passed up so many opportunities in my lifetime. I don’t want to let them continue to slip by without giving them a second thought.

What about you?

Do you recognize that you have the power to do good? How broad—or narrow—is your perception of whom you might impact? And, have you failed to realize when it is in your power to act?

May all of us realize that we have the power to do good!

The Church for Immigrants

the-church-for-immigrants

Is the church for immigrants?

I’ve been thinking about the issue of immigration. After kicking around some ideas as a response to the State of the Union Address, I took a look at what the Bible says about the issue. The next question I’m asking flows from that biblical perspective: What is the Church’s role – and the role of individual believers?

Churches in America are uniquely positioned to minister to the immigrants in their communities.

Wouldn’t it be great if your church came to be known as the church for immigrants? How might this happen?

How to become the church for immigrants

Here are a few simple suggestions.

1. Establish language learning groups.

Can you imagine having to uproot your family, move across a border and try to survive in a land full of strangers who speak an entirely different language? It takes loads of courage and more than a little creativity and resourcefulness. It also takes a mammoth amount of work.

Christians should be first in line to help out. Most churches have the space. And, most churches have the people: Spanish teachers, English speaking former immigrants, or high school students who have acquired enough language to help them make an initial connection. A little bit of advertising, a little word of mouth, and a language learning group could be up and running.

And, notice, I didn’t just say these should be English classes. No! I think they should be discussion groups where English speakers teach and learn and non-English speakers teach and learn. The reciprocity would set the stage for great learning and relationships.

2. Offer guidance.

Let’s be honest. It’s difficult for born-and-bred Americans to navigate most of the administrative or legal processes we come upon. When is the last time you signed a contract? Took out a loan? Renewed your driver’s license? Applied for a job? It’s a real hassle. Now, imagine trying to do that in a second language. Yikes!

The church could be on the front lines, guiding immigrants through any number of processes: enrolling their children in school, getting drivers’ licenses, filling out medical paperwork, writing resumes, opening bank accounts, applying for insurance, finding affordable housing. The list could go on and on. Imagine the relief it would be for immigrants to know they’re being patiently and skillfully guided. What a huge ministry!

3. Meet physical needs.

Immigrants often arrive in America with so little. They have only a few of the things they really need. Poverty can become a grind. And, unchecked, it can wear out immigrants and their families, leaving them hopeless and desperate.

Conversely, Christians in America have so much. We have a surplus. And, with a compelling vision and a simple process, churches with hearts for immigrants could stockpile huge amounts of products to share with immigrants in their communities. There is an ample supply of the things you typically think to donate: clothes, shoes, coats, kitchen supplies, toiletries and more. But, when challenged, it’s amazing the big things people will donate: appliances, furniture, vehicles, living space. I’ve learned to never underestimate the generosity of Christians who are shown a need and then challenged to meet it.

4. Befriend.

Can you imagine how lonely you’d be if you moved from your home to a foreign land? Can you imagine being on your own without your family or friends? It would be miserable.

I understand the struggle of some well-intentioned Christians, feeling incapable of making a difference. The large gaps we perceive can leave us feeling unable to help. But, I’ve found that although many immigrants can be shy—they perceive the gap too—they are extremely grateful when others take the initiative to move toward them, to extend an offer of friendship. Immigrants crave the same things we do: love, acceptance, identification, friendship. The next time you have the opportunity, reach out, even if you’re unable to use words. Make a move and see what happens through your act of kindness.

There are literally hundreds of ways churches could minister to the immigrant populations in their communities. They’re only limited by the limits of their creativity.

How awesome would it be if your church—if my church—were to be known as the church for immigrants!

The Bible and the Immigrant Experience

the-bible-and-the-immigrant-experience

I’ve recently written that the issue of immigration is provocative to me. A big cause for this is the fact that the immigrant experience is a central theme in the Bible.

The immigrant experience in the Bible

At the core of the Patriarchs’ identity was the experience of being foreigners in a foreign land.

God called Abraham from his native land with the promise that he would go before him and that he would lead him to the land he would one day inherit (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham obeyed and went. God then entered into a covenant with Abraham. In doing so, he promised he would “give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God,” (Genesis 17:8). The only small parcel of land Abraham would own was the burial ground he purchased for his wife (Genesis 23:4). Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. They owned nothing else. Eventually, God would lead the entire family from their campsite in Canaan to what would become bitter slavery in Egypt. Certainly, next to the Promise, the immigrant experience was the most defining feature of life for the Patriarchs.

When God formed his nation, he formed it from a nation of aliens and slaves.

God’s own people toiled in slavery in the land of Egypt for over 400 years (Exodus 1:1-14). They lived in the land as aliens. They were oppressed. Demeaned. Beaten. Without representation. They spoke a different language. Had different customs. Had no formal institution in which to gather and forge an identity. They were prohibited from carrying out their religious ceremonies. They had no rights. Only the faint memory of a promise. Generations came and went until God sent a deliverer, Moses, to wrench them from Pharaoh’s hand and to guide them to freedom. The defining moment of the Exodus, the event that symbolized the birth of the nation of Israel, was the Passover. Whom did Moses include in that first Passover? The children of Abraham, of course. Whom else? Any foreigner living among the Israelites who was willing to identify with the nation (Exodus 12:48-49).

At Sinai, God made provision in the Law for the foreigners who would inhabit the Promised Land beside his people.

God’s instructed Israel to deal fairly with foreigners. Why? Because “you know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 23:9). He even included them in religious activities (Leviticus 17:8). God commanded his people to treat foreigners well and to include them in the life of the nation precisely because they understood and could identify with their plight. They knew what it meant, how it felt and all that was entailed. That empathy was to fuel goodwill and provision, justice and fairness, mercy and compassion.

The Bible is the story of a nation of exiles who are delivered by God himself.

As the story of the nation of Israel unfolds, through a long, looping spiral of devotion and betrayal, repentance and rebellion, eventually God’s people ended up, once again, as foreigners in a strange land. The Old Testament records the sad story of the destruction of the nation, most poignantly seen in the destruction of the Temple, and the deportation of the people. And the New Testament tells the story of how God once and forever provided an end to the exile and oppression under which his people groaned.

He did this by creating a brand new nation, a nation made entirely of aliens and immigrants.

How did he do this? He purchased freedom for all who would depend upon him in faith by means his own death, burial and resurrection. He returned us from exile and created a new nation. This nation isn’t exclusively comprised of people from the nation of Israel. The Church is a gathering of foreigners from all nations, people who are welcomed not as “strangers and foreigners” but as brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Then, as Christians go about their business in the world, they do so as “temporary residents and foreigners,” (1 Peter 2:11).

There are several biblical principles—principles that we might be bold enough to embrace—that emerge:

  • To be a Christian is to be a foreigner. Therefore, we ought to be uniquely suited to understand the plight of the foreigners in our communities.
  • To be a Christian is to welcome foreigners because we understand what being a foreigner is like.
  • To be a Christian is to join God, working to bring his justice, mercy and provision to the dispossessed and disenfranchised.
  • To be a Christian is to have a heart that swells with the kind of compassion that leads to action.

If you and I follow Christ, we pledge our allegiance to the highest Authority. In so doing, we alienate ourselves from the world. We look, think and act differently. (If we don’t, we must examine ourselves.) From that humble position, the Church can be the Church and Christians can be Christians—and act in good conscience—no matter what public opinion states, no matter what laws are passed or not passed. If we are living for Christ, we know what it is to be aliens. And, we should be willing to do whatever we can to put that biblical worldview to action for the benefit of those around us.

This is a big challenge to me, personally. And, I hope it’s a challenge my fellow immigrants will take more seriously as well.